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The targets are Venezuela and Cuba

New Intrigues of US imperialism

By Alan Woods in Mexico City

On May 1, Fidel Castro denounced the United States before a million marchers in Havana. The Cuban leader also denounced the European Union as a mafia allied with Washington, and went on to criticise some Latin American governments, namely Mexico and Peru. Castro accused the two countries of joining the herd of hypocrites who voted to condemn Cuba at last month's meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Mexico was, he declared, now a mere pawn of the United States, its “prestige and influence gained in Latin America and the world... turned to ashes”.

These comments were no more than the truth. Under the government of Vicente Fox, Mexico has become completely dependent on Washington, and a loyal ally for its foreign policy. Following Washington's dictates, Fox joined in the noisy chorus of condemnation of Cuba over "human rights". Mexico's relations with Cuba have therefore been tense since Fox's election victory in 2000.

These condemnations, coinciding as they do with the exposure of the systematic abuse of human rights by the US forces in Iraq, cut very little ice with most people here in Mexico, who are broadly sympathetic to Cuba and bitterly hostile to US imperialism. So when Fox demanded the recall of the Mexican ambassador from Havana and ordered the Cuban diplomats to leave, the response of the masses was anything but favourable. The diplomatic crisis between Mexico and Cuba has deepened the political crisis in Mexico and further undermined Fox and his right wing PAN government.

In 2002, the rift between the Fox government and Cuba became public when Castro walked out of a summit hosted by the Mexican president in Monterrey. Castro then released an audiotape of a phone call in which his host told him in no uncertain terms that he must leave early so as not to embarrass George Bush. The famous telephone conversation has become universally known in Mexico by Fox's graphic (and not terribly diplomatic) phrase "Come, y te vas" (You eat, then you leave).

However, the tensions between Mexico and Cuba are more complicated than this. For many weeks the political life of Mexico has been rocked by a scandal in which the present mayor of Mexico City, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has been accused of involvement in a corruption scandal. News of the scandal every day fills the columns of the newspapers and the television screens, and is now at the very centre of the politics of this country.

The PAN government and its friends in the mass media accuse associates of López Obrador of receiving sizeable bribes from Carlos Ahumada, a Mexican businessman. Ahumada, a very shady character, apparently filmed himself paying these bribes to functionaries of the PRD (the centre-left party to which López Obrador belongs). However, the accusations have not got much of an echo among the people of Mexico, who are accustomed to believe (not without reason) that all Mexican politicians are corrupt and take bribes as a matter of course. The question is therefore why only the opposition PRD has been singled out for exposure.

The answer is not hard to understand and most Mexicans understand it very well. It is clearly part of a carefully worked-out strategy by Fox to bring discredit on the PRD and blacken the name of the popular mayor of Mexico City. The reason is that the popularity of Fox and the right wing PAN has plummeted. The old PRI party that governed Mexico for many decades, is split and in crisis. Therefore it is quite possible that the PRD could win power in the Presidential elections in 2006.

This has implications that go far beyond the borders of Mexico. The prospect of a PRD government would be most unwelcome in Washington, which is attempting to eliminate all governments in Latin America and the Caribbean that do not blindly obey its commands. The removal of Aristide in Haiti through the direct military intervention of the US army was one indication of this aggressive policy. The attempts to overthrow Hugo Chávez in Venezuela are another. The increased pressure on Cuba is yet another.

The infamous Colombia Plan is calculated not only to increase the stranglehold of the USA on Colombia but on the whole of Latin America. Finally, the so-called Free Trade Agreement for the Americas (ALCA) is an attempt to get complete control of all the natural wealth, minerals and oil of the continent, and to conquer a monopoly of its huge market, free from competition from the European capitalists.

The fall of the Fox government would be a serious blow to these plans of US imperialism. The PRD is seen as a threat in Washington. Despite all the attempts of the PRD leaders to adopt a moderate stand and renounce radical policies, the US imperialists do not trust it. They fear the masses who stand behind the PRD ‑ and in this they are not mistaken. They are terrified of a new version of Chávez on their frontiers. The hand of Washington is therefore clearly behind the recent scandal and the ever more strident attacks on the PRD.

For reasons known only to himself, Ahumada fled to Cuba immediately after the exposure of the corruption scandal in February. Cuba involved itself in Mexico's explosive political scandal when it deported him back to Mexico last week. Before deporting him, Cuban officials said that Ahumada had confessed to them that he was part of a conspiracy by Fox's people to bring the mayor down.

Mexico's government countered by accusing two Cuban Communist Party officials of spying during a recent visit to Mexico. Fox ordered the recall of the Mexican ambassador from Havana and the expulsion from Mexico of a number of Cuban diplomats and Communist Party members accused of carrying out "activities incompatible with their status". Peru also announced that it was withdrawing its ambassador from Havana.

This action is without precedent in the history of relations between Mexico and Cuba. Diplomatic relations between the two countries still exist, but only on a minimal level. Hitherto, relations were generally good. It is an unprecedented diplomatic crisis.

On May 6th the US State Department released a 500-page report, the outcome of a six-month policy review, on ways to step up American pressure against Cuba. Its proposals include restricting visits by Cuban Americans and cutting their remittances home by half; curbs on spending by Americans who travel legally to Cuba; and boosting support for anti-Castro elements and for propaganda broadcasts aimed at the island.

President Bush said the United States would also spend $59m (£33m) over the next two years to promote the goal of "a democratic Cuba" (read a capitalist Cuba), including US$18m to counter Cuba's jamming of anti-Castro broadcasts.

This latest attempt at bullying will not succeed. It has infuriated the Cuban people who staged a massive demonstration on the streets of Havana. About one million marched along the Malecón, Havana's harbour boulevard, in the protest. Posters portrayed George Bush wearing a Hitler moustache alongside a Nazi swastika, while others carried pictures of Iraqi prisoners abused by US soldiers, with the slogan: "This would never happen in Cuba."

Fidel Castro said the march was "an act of indignant protest, and a denunciation of the brutal, merciless and cruel measures" announced by Bush. The Cuban leader denounced and ridiculed the US President, George Bush, saying he was a fraudulently elected leader trying to impose "world tyranny". He vowed that Cuba would never become a neo-colony of the United States.

He went on to accuse the United States of fighting "wars of conquest to seize the markets and resources of the world", while Cuba was sending abroad thousands of doctors to save lives. He insisted that Bush had "neither morality nor any right at all to speak of liberty, democracy and human rights". [For the full speech see: http://www.cuba.cu/gobierno/discursos/2004/ing/f140504i.html ]

The lies of the Fox government and the new measures taken by US imperialism against Cuba have served to infuriate the Mexican public that is already tired of its anti-working class policies of neo-liberalism, downsizing and precarious jobs. Thousands of Mexicans spontaneously demonstrated at the Cuban Embassy this week. They understand clearly that their government is being shamelessly manipulated by US imperialism in the furtherance of its own reactionary policies and interests.

This is a fact. All these intrigues have been organised and orchestrated by the US State Department. It is very clear that all these events are interconnected and form part of a general plan of US imperialism to increase its domination of Latin America, silence all criticism and overthrow governments that refuse to bend the knee to George W Bush.

The latest attempt to bully and isolate Cuba is partly –but not totally ‑ dictated by electoral considerations. George Bush's hold on power gets shakier by the day. He needs to secure Florida in the Presidential election. This means adopting measures that will please the Cuban Mafia in Miami and other right wing groups. Several prominent member of the Cuban-American Mafia have top jobs in the Bush administration (although one, Otto Reich resigned this week as the special envoy to Latin America).

This miserable gang of mafiosi, thieves, drug dealers, cutthroats and pimps masquerading as respected businessmen and "democrats" are waiting in the wings for their return to Cuba where they hope to resume their crooked activities under the protection of the government of Washington, as in the "good old days" before the Cuban revolution. As an insurance policy for their future well-being they pay millions into the coffers of the Republican party. They naturally expect some kind of downpayment on their investment, and their good friend in the White House has just obliged them.

The recent intrigues are dictated by considerations that go far deeper than mere electoral tactics. After the fall of the USSR US imperialism has achieved a virtual monopoly of power in the world. Colossal power brings colossal arrogance. Drunk with power, the most reactionary circles of the US establishment are determined to impose American domination throughout the entire world.

This fact expresses itself most clearly in the policies of George Bush and the neo Conservative faction that until recently controlled his actions. Despite the defeat that is staring it in the face in Iraq, the right wing clique that has seized control in the White House is already preparing new adventures and new explosions.

The right wing of the Bush administration and its friends in the Pentagon would probably like to prepare the ground for an invasion to secure "regime change" in Havana. They have learned nothing from Iraq and are probably calculating that with the attention of the world focused on the Middle East, a couple of little adventures in Latin America will not be noticed.

These people are really quite unbalanced. They would be prepared for anything, but they no longer have the influence they enjoyed before the debacle in Iraq. The neo Conservative wing are losing ground. The war in Iraq that they planned and encouraged is ending in a complete debacle for the United States. The revelations of brutality and torture have completely demolished the last excuse for the invasion. Rumsfeld is fighting for his political life. Probably the neo Conservatives will be made a scapegoat for George Bush's disastrous miscalculation in Iraq.

Does this mean that new adventures by US imperialism in Latin America are ruled out? Not at all. The politics of US imperialism in fundamentals are not decided by who is in the White House but by the interests of the imperialists and the big US corporations that they defend. Latin America is the backyard of US imperialism. Washington cannot afford to allow Cuba and Venezuela to live peacefully because they represent points of reference for millions of poor people, unemployed workers and landless peasants throughout Latin America.

Nor will a Democratic victory in the Presidential elections necessarily signify a fundamental change of course, as some people foolishly imagine. The declarations of Kerry about Venezuela are even more rabidly reactionary than those of Bush. His attempt to enlist the Republican John McCain as candidate for Vice President has exposed his real political agenda. There is no fundamental difference between him and the Republicans. Nothing whatsoever can be expected from this quarter.

The only way to expose and defeat the reactionary and aggressive plans of US imperialism is by mobilising the might of the world labour movement. The movement against imperialism and capitalism must be strengthened. Protests must be organised. Pressure must be applied. The lessons must be learned. Let us raise a universal cry that will be heard everywhere:

Hands off Cuba!
Hands off Venezuela!
Down with imperialism!

May 21, 2004

You can also see photo galleries of the demonstrations:
Gallery 1
Gallery 2

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Coup cheerleader Aleksander Boyd faces hate-Venezuela setback in Austria

VENPRES reports: After incidents that occurred in Vienna (Austria), May 11, the Venezuelan opposition has suffered a new defeat in its intent to create negative opinions of Venezuela's Bolivarian Revolution in foreign countries.

According to information released by the Venezuelan Embassy in Vienna, the Socialist Youth Party of Austria and the Movement "Hands Off Venezuela" had demonstrated on May 11 in front of the Latin American Institute headquarters in Vienna, where a meeting entitled "Communications Media & Information Processes: The Venezuelan Case" was being held by the self-proclaimed "Vienna Pro-Venezuela Group" lead by Aleksander Boyd ... a member of the same group in London.

A large group of youth drew pictures of dead bodies at the entrance to the Institute to represent the many deaths that the opposition's destabilizing acts have caused in Venezuela.

Under the slogan "We won't allow fascist organizations to appear in Austria and try to justify to our society the abuses that the opposition coup leaders commit in Venezuela," the youths distributed informational material explaining Venezuela's private communications media's manipulations.

According to the press release, Boyd tried to justify the private communications media's conduct ... but he was harshly criticized by the majority of the participants, who refuted his statements with strong, logical arguments.

During his presentation, Boyd tried to justify the "right" of the media to promote military pronouncements and the coup d'etat against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez ... and to lie or manipulate the information, all in the name of "freedom of expression."

These statements served to unmask to the public the true fascist, antidemocratic, and unconstitutional concepts supported by opposition coup-promoters. "Rather than freedom of expression and information, what they wish to promote is freedom of media owners to lie and act as power brokers to defeat the legitimate government elected by the people of Venezuela," notes the press release.

Aleksander Boyd, a hotel bell-hop who has admitted fantasies of being a "Ghengis Khan," lost his job near Oxford Street in London last November (2003) and has since devoted his energies as the "brains" behind a virulent hate-Venezuela website based in from London UK ... the website shows he is sponsored by various US NED-funded groups in the Venezuelan opposition.

See the photo gallery here.

Translated by Philip Stinard

En Espanol:

Fracaso de la oposición venezolana en Austria

Venpres (Vienna, Austria): La oposición venezolana sufrió una nueva derrota en su intento por generar una matriz de opinión negativa de la Revolución Bolivariana en el exterior, tras hechos ocurridos en esta ciudad el pasado 11 de mayo y que destaca una información de la Embajada de Venezuela en Austria.

De acuerdo con la información, la Juventud del Partido Socialista de Austria y el Movimiento "Manos Fuera de Venezuela"manifestaron el 11 de mayo frente a la sede del Instituto Latinoamericano, en esta ciudad, donde se realizaba un evento organizado por el grupo autodenominado Viena-ProVenezuela, titulada "Medios de Comunicación y Procesos de Información: caso Venezuela", a cargo de Aleksander Boyd, integrante del mismo grupo en Londres.

Un numeroso grupo de jóvenes dibujaron figuras de cuerpos sin vida a la entrada del Instituto, en representación de los numerosos muertos que han generado las acciones desestabilizadoras de la oposición en nuestro país.

Bajo la consigna "no permitiremos que organizaciones fascistas se presenten en Austria y traten de justificar ante nuestra sociedad los abusos que la oposición golpista comete en Venezuela", los jovenes distribuyeron material informativo, explicando la manipulación que ejercen los medios de comunicación privados en el país.

De acuerdocon la información, el expositor trató por su parte de justificar la conducta de los medios de comunicación privados, pero fue duramente criticado por la mayoría de los participantes, quienes desmintieron sus declaraciones con argumentos contundentes.

Boyd pretendió justificar durante su ponencia el "derecho" de los medios de promover el pronunciamiento militar y el golpe de estado contra el presidente de la República, Hugo Chávez Frías, y de mentir o manipular la información, todo ello en nombre de la "libertad de expresión".

Esas afirmaciones terminaron de desenmascarar ante el público presente la verdadera concepción, fascista, antidemocrática e inconstitucional que sustenta la oposición golpista. "Más que libertad de expresión e información, lo que pretenden mantener es la libertad de los dueños de medios de mentir y actuar como factores de poder para derrocar el gobierno legítimo que se dio el pueblo venezolano", destaca la nota de prensa.

See the photo gallery here.

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LIE ONE

• CHAVEZ DOES NOT WANT TO CALL A RECALL REFERENDUM •

In fact the recall referendum is an instrument introduced by the new Bolivarian constitution. In order to trigger it a certain number of signatures must be collected. In this particular case (the recall of the President of the Republic) 2.4 million signatures are necessary. In December 2003 the opposition said it had collected 3.6 million signatures. In February the National Electoral Council declared that 800,000 of these signatures were invalid. Moreover, 700,000 were declared as unclear and needed to go through a verification process. This demonstrates how massive the fraud was. This decision was ratified by the Carter Center and observers of the Organization of American States (which certainly can not be considered as two revolutionary organizations). If the opposition manages to reconfirm 50 percent of the doubtful signatures, it would have enough to be able to call for the referendum. The Government declared it was prepared to follow the decision of the National Electoral Council.


LIE TWO

• CHAVES USES REPRESSION AGAINST THE OPPOSITION •

In Venezuela there have been hundreds of peaceful opposition demonstrations and never has there been political repression of any kind (the opposite of what used to happen during the 40 years of rule of the parties now in opposition). In February 2004 the opposition refused to recognize the decision of the National Electoral Council, called for civil and military disobedience and for the building of barricades in the streets of Caracas. It confronted the National Guard with Molotov cocktails and rifles. The National Guard responded in a moderate way and cleared out the barricades from the streets. After these disturbances organized by the "democratic opposition" there have been other peaceful demonstrations of the opposition, although poorly attended.


LIE THREE

• CHAVES USES REPRESSION AGAINST THE MEDIA •

In the last five years the private media (which is 90 percent dominated by the opposition) has launched a systematic campaign of insults towards the democratically-elected President, as well as deliberate lies and open calls for a military coup and for the overthrow of the democratic government by violent means. However there has been no censorship of the press whatsoever (unlike what used to happen during the 40 years of rule of the parties which now form the opposition). Only two TV channels have been closed during these five years: Channel 8 (which is the state-owned broadcaster), closed by the opposition during the military coup of April 2002; and CatiaTV, a local community TV station from a neighborhood in Caracas, which was closed by a local government controlled by the "democratic" opposition.


LIE FOUR

• IN VENEZUELA THERE IS A DICTATORSHIP •

In Venezuela all democratic rights are respected. The only people who tried to install a dictatorship in Venezuela were those from the "democratic" opposition who organized the military coup of April 2002, suspended the Constitution, the National Assembly (the Parliament) and all democratic rights. None of those responsible for the coup are today in jail. The majority of them walk free in the streets of Caracas while preparing new conspiracies to overthrow the government. The others are in a very comfortable exile in Miami from where they move the threads of the conspiracy.


LIE FIVE

• CHAVEZ SUPPORTS TERRORISM •

The opposition has never presented any proof for its ridiculous accusations (as for example the supposed existence of an Al-Qaeda training camp in Isla Margarita). Last Saturday 56 Colombian paramilitaries were arrested. They were training in order to organize terrorist actions against the democratically-elected government on a plot of land of a well-known opposition leader in El Hatillo.

In Venezuela there is a revolutionary process which has been overwhelmingly supported by the population in seven successive elections during the last 5 years. The "democratic" opposition represents the interests of an oligarchy which for decades has controlled the natural resources of the country and does not want to renounce its privileges. This is why we support the Venezuelan revolution.

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The Washington Post Should Support Democracy in Venezuela Instead of Spreading Misinformation


Today, 26 May 2004, the Washington Post ran an Op-Ed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calling on the opposition and the Bush administration to commit to respect the results of the signature repair process that will take place this coming weekend The Op-Ed is available online at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55957-2004May25.html, and is included at the end of this e-mail.

Opposite the Op-Ed, the Washington Post's editorial page printed a factually inaccurate attack on the Venezuelan government (This editorial is available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A55981-2004May25.html). Moreover, the Op-Ed will undoubtedly provoke a flurry of e-mail from right-wing radicals in the U.S. seeking to spread misinformation about Venezuela.

Therefore, the Venezuela Information Office is asking people to write publishable letters to the editor of the Washington Post, in order to provide factual information about recent events in Venezuela and point out the factual inaccuracies contained in the Post's editorial.

GUIDELINES FOR LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:

  • Send to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..
  • Remember to include your home address and evening and daytime telephone numbers.
  • Letters to the editor should no longer than 200 words long -- the shorter the better (roughly one-third of a page, single-spaced, maximum).
  • Mention in your letter the date and title of the Op-Ed you are responding to.

If you would like help drafting or editing your letter to the editor, please do not hesitate to contact the Venezuela Information Office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 202-737-6637, x.27 (In the United States)

While writing your letter you may want to keep in mind the following:

--While the Hugo Chavez and other Venezuelan government officials have repeatedly pledged to respect the rule of law and obey the upcoming ruling by Venezuela's National Electoral Council (CNE), the opposition and the Bush administration have yet to offer such a guarantee.

--Opposition leaders, including former President Carlos Andres Perez and former union leader Carlos Ortega, have recently made statements suggesting they plan to once again resort to violence in their drive to unseat Hugo Chavez. This raises the alarming possibility of renewed political violence in Venezuela.

--Venezuela remains a democracy.

  • Hugo Chavez was elected in both 1998 and 2000 in elections declared free and fair by international observers.
  • The opposition controls 48 percent of the seats in Congress and regularly delays or blocks legislation supported by the government.
  • The Supreme Court is independent, and has repeatedly ruled against Hugo Chavez, finding his land reform decrees unconstitutional and releasing from prison military officers charged with participating in the 2002 coup.
  • The Venezuelan media is completely free, and attacks Chavez in the harshest of terms on a daily basis.
  • The opposition regularly holds large, peaceful demonstrations without fear of police harassment.

--The Chavez administration has implemented a wide variety of new social programs benefiting poor Venezuelans. These include clinics in impoverished neighborhoods, new schools, adult literacy classes, infrastructure projects in poor areas, and land reform.

--Independent polls give Chavez an approval rate of 40%-50% nationwide, a figure comparable to US president George W. Bush.

--The opposition blames Chavez for Venezuela's economic woes; in fact, the country fell into economic decline in the 1980s due to mismanagement and corruption. The economy has been no worse under Chávez than under his predecessors. Moreover, the single most economically destructive event in recent Venezuelan history was last year's opposition shutdown of the state oil company, which cost the economy around 14 billions dollars. The economy is growing rapidly right now and the IMF projects an 8.8 percent growth for 2004 (World Economic Outlook Spring 2004).

--The Bush administration supported the 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez. U.S. officials continue to make very hostile statements about the Chavez administration, and have said that they will not accept anything other than a recall referendum, regardless of whether the legal requirements for such a vote have been fulfilled. The administration should declare its support for Venezuela's independent electoral authorities and pledge to abide by their decision.

--The editorial response to Chavez's Op-Ed contains multiple factual errors, some of which you may want to point out in your letter. These include:

  • Since 1999, the Venezuelan economy has contracted 14 percent, not 25 percent as the editorial claims. Most of this contraction is due to the three months shutdown of the state oil company in 2002-2003, which was organized by the opposition. The rest comes from instability in which the opposition played a major role, e.g. the 2002 coup d'etat, other strikes, and capital flight (some of which was deliberate and political or influenced by negative media reports).
  • The Post's editorial claims that Hugo Chávez appointed the National Electoral Council (CNE) that is overseeing the recall process. This is false. The CNE was appointed by Venezuela's Supreme Court, which is independent. Both the government and the opposition expressed satisfaction when the electoral authorities were chosen.
  • The Post's editorial says that the signature verification process scheduled for this weekend will be two days long. This is false. It will be three days long.
  • According to the Post's editorial, Hugo Chávez "tried to exclude" international observers from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States last week. This is false. Hugo Chávez had nothing to do with the dispute between electoral authorities and the CNE last week, and never publicly commented on it.
  • The Post's editorial expresses concern about " intimidation by government goon squads" during the signature confirmation period this weekend. In fact, there has been no systematic intimidation of voters or petition signers since Hugo Chávez took office in 1999.

Read more ...

Guardian journalist Sibylla Brodzinsky misreporting on Venezuela


Sibylla Brodzinsky's article on Venezuela ("Leftwing dictator or saviour of the poor: Chavez faces new challenge to his rule") fits into the pattern of half-truths and open lies that characterises the media coverage of the Bolivarian revolution. This is something we expect from The Economist (which openly calls for "regime change") but not from the Guardian.

When we saw the article we could not believe our eyes and immediately sent a letter to the Guardian (published on Thursday, May 25). But, because this comes from a paper seen as "progressive" by many, it might be worth analysing the article in detail.

To start with she affirms that a recall referendum against Chavez is "the last chance to remove the president constitutionally", something that seems to imply that otherwise the opposition will have no alternative other than to remove him by unconstitutional means. Has she considered the possibility of the opposition removing the president by waiting until the next presidential elections? Also, unnamed "experts" affirm "it may also be the last chance to avoid a civil war". So far, the only group provoking a civil war has been the opposition which carried out the April 11, 2002 coup, and which openly discusses the violent overthrow of the democratically elected government and calls on its supporters to rise up against it.

Trying to paint the opposition as innocent victims of an undemocratic president ("a former paratroop commander"), she says "the opposition used street demonstrations to try and force his resignation and last year staged a two month general strike". What about the military coup organised by the opposition in April 2002? Oh, but that is described by Brodzinsky as Chavez being "ousted briefly by a military rebellion, but returned to power two days later"! Who organised the coup? The opposition. Who returned Chavez to power, a mass movement of the people and a rebellion of military officers and troops loyal to the democratically elected president.

"Dozens of people have died in clashes between pro- and anti-Chávez groups during the past several years," Brodzinsky tells us. What she forgets to say is that most of those killed were Chavez supporters. Some 50 people were killed in the two brief days that the opposition coup lasted in April 2002 and nearly 100 peasant and trade union activists have been killed since Chavez won the presidential election in 1998. Most of those have been killed on orders from landowners and bosses to "solve" conflicts over the land reform and industrial disputes.

"The latest deaths came in February, when at least 14 people died in opposition demonstrations and as many as 200 were wounded". First of all the most recent case of a politically motivated murder is that of the of Giandomenico Puliti, Bolivarian leader and mayoral candidate of the Fifth Republic Movement in Tovar, Merida, assassinated on May 7. Secondly, in February the opposition called for an uprising against the democratically elected government when the National Electoral Council ruled hundreds of thousands of signatures collected for the recall referendum as invalid. The same Amnesty International report that Brodzinsky quotes only selectively describes the situation: "groups of opposition supporters using barricades, stones, Molotov cocktails and firework rockets. There were also several reports of protesters using firearms. In this context, there were clearly legitimate public security concerns, which the authorities had a duty to respond to." (AI INDEX: AMR 53/005/2004). The opposition clearly wanted to provoke a response from the government and the National Guard that would justify their theory that in Venezuela there is a dictatorship. If the opposition organises violent demonstrations using Molotov cocktails and firearms, violence will inevitably take place. However, in the last 5 years there have been dozens, probably hundreds of opposition demonstrations (some quite large, recently smaller in size) with no violence at all. In fact, after the violent incidents provoked by the opposition at the end of February, there was a peaceful (though small in numbers) opposition demonstration on March 6 (and there have been a few after that).

"Many fear that his friendship with Fidel Castro could herald a Cuban-style socialist system for Venezuela, and worry about his apparent sympathy with neighbouring Colombia's leftwing rebels", Brodzinsky informs us, without telling us exactly who these worried "many" are. There is also a straight lie dressed as a truth in the sentence when she talks about "apparent" sympathy for the FARC guerrillas on the part of Chavez. We publicly challenge Brodzinsky to provide any proof (a quote would suffice) to demonstrate this. The only thing she would have found out if she had carried out her journalistic duties is that Chavez offered to mediate between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, at a time when the two sides were engaged in peace talks. This is not just a small detail or an unimportant oversight. A major part of the US administration and Venezuelan opposition campaign to oust Chavez is to brand his government as being "supportive of terrorism". Since the FARC guerrillas are considered by Washington to be "narco-terrorists" the intention in associating Chavez with the FARC becomes clear. In a world dominated by Bush's "war on terror", this is a very serious accusation to make. Not only does Brodzinsky not provide evidence for this opposition allegation, but she tries to cover herself by saying that this "sympathy" is "apparent". This is convenient because it removes the need to provide any proof, but it is appalling journalism.

She then, quoting again unnamed "analysts" ("and even some opposition members"!) says that "the cards are so stacked against them that the likelihood of a referendum is low". To back up this claim she quotes from Michael Rowan whom she describes as an American political strategist who has lived in Venezuela for more than 30 years. This bland and professional description is meant to give Mr Rowan an air of respectability (you see, he is not a "former paratroop commander"). However Brodzinsky conveniently forgets to say that Mr Rowan has a weekly column in one of the most rabidly anti-Chavez dailies, El Universal, where he makes his opposition views abundantly clear. In a recent edition of his column, comparing Chavez to Hitler and Mussolini he says: "Venezuela is starting to resemble Italy or Germany in the 1930s. As an elected leader with charismatic force and a radical worldview rose like a Phoenix to dominate the country, thoughts about how to put Venezuela back on a track of inclusion virtually disappeared. Consumed or appalled by the power and glory of the new leader's insane hatreds, every conversation turned on questions about him: Could he last, how can he be stopped, can he be recalled, how can I get away from this madness? This is exactly as the tyrant wants it." (The full article can be found in the opposition and coup supporting site Vcrisis and we recommend all our readers to read it in full to get a clearer picture of the kind of political thinking of people like Mr Rowan, an "American political strategist").

The truth of the matter is that the chances of a recall referendum being called are low because the opposition never collected the necessary number of signatures. Out of the 3.4 million signatures the opposition claimed it had collected only 1.8 million were declared valid by the National Electoral Commission (CNE), some 700,000 were declared invalid (where names did not correspond with national ID numbers, deceased or under aged people had "signed", etc) and 800,000 were declared doubtful and subject to a verification process (this was in the case where full sheets of data had been filled with the same handwriting). All the opposition needs to do in the verification period next week is to prove that at least 75% of those signatures are valid and then a recall referendum would be triggered (whether they can win such a referendum or not is another matter).

All Brodzinsky tells us about the National Electoral Commission is what the opposition thinks of it (that it is controlled by government supporters and that Chavez is manipulating the process). She does not even quote the government's position on this (which would be good journalistic practice). Even worse, she completely ignores the fact that the Carter Centre, the Organisation of American States and the European Union observers all certified that the signature collection and verification process were fair and free. These are hardly "Cuban-style" institutions, nor do they appear to have "apparent sympathies" for the FARC guerrillas!

The Carter Centre for instance, when the CNE publicised its decision on the number of valid and invalid signatures and those which had to be re-verified, declared that: "In this process, in particular, we find sufficient controls, including security paper for the petitions, full identification of the citizen with signature and thumbprint, summary forms (actas) listing the petition (planillas) serial numbers during the collection process, party witnesses, personnel trained and designated by the CNE, verification of each petition form and a cross-check with the summary forms, a cross-check of the names with the voters list, and a mechanism for appeal and correction." (You can see the declaration of the Carter Centre and the Organization of American States here). And although the Centre declared that they would have been more lenient regarding the sheets filled with the same handwriting, it also made clear its support for the process of re-verification of those. Brodzinsky conveniently ignores these statements since they would contradict the image she is trying to paint of a process manipulated by the government where the opposition does not stand a chance of getting enough valid signatures.

One of the funniest parts in Brodzinsky's article is when she says that: "For all his vitriolic rhetoric against the US and George Bush, Washington has so far failed to engage Mr Chávez directly in the fight. However, the US Congress has funded some opposition groups through a non-governmental organisation." This implies that Chavez is provoking Bush for a fight, but Bush (that great moderate) has restrained himself from engaging him directly. The truth, as is so often the case with journalistic articles on Venezuela, is precisely the opposite. Despite Washington's constant provocations against the democratically elected Venezuelan government and its constant interference with the sovereign affairs of Venezuela, the Venezuelan government has been very restrained in its response, and only more recently has started to reply directly to these constant provocations. As for the US not engaging Chavez directly, if what Brodzinsky means is that Bush has not yet ordered the invasion of the country, then that is true. But really, short of that, the US administration has used all other means at their disposal, open and covert, to undermine and overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela, one that in reality has more claim to democratic legitimacy than Bush's.

We ask ourselves how an article by Sibylla Brodzinsky, who to our knowledge has never written for the Guardian before, but who is a regular collaborator of the right wing Miami Herald, made it into the pages of the Guardian.

Jorge Martin
International Secretary
Hands off Venezuela Campaign
(www.handsoffvenezuela.org)

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